Turning Point: 2007

Is JJ a slam dunk to leave in May?

As Purdue fans, we're nearing the eve of a very-impactful decision for Purdue's basketball program- I'm speaking of course of JJ's decision to stay or go. I have an opinion on what's going to happen like the rest of you, but I'm not sure talking/writing about what I guess might happen does any good for anybody...so I'm going to wait and see.

But, through my black and gold prism, I can only think about how pivotal Johnson & company's class was and is...but it wasn't just that way for Purdue.

In the mid-00s, the BT had lost a bit of its moxy as a conference. One or two good teams seemed to rise to the top each season and make noise in the dance, but the old Big Ten was a memory. The Big Ten I'm talking about was that of the early-90s and before. A league that was respected and feared by the nation. A league that produce a ton of talent that played at the next level and plenty of All-Americans.

Sure, MSU and Izzo continued to do what they do, but that wasn't the case for the storied programs in the league for the most part. Wisconsin's Bo Ryan coached masterfully, year-in, year-out, in that dogged, beat-em-up style that I've grown to hate, and EsPN chose to focus upon. Granted, Ryan's clubs were dominating the league in the early 00s...they seemed to fill the vacuum left by shriveling powerhouses.

But, it seems the league, from top-to-bottom (with a few exceptions), has turned a corner. Talent is flooding into the Big Ten, and energy seems to be nothing-but-positive for the basketball league. Purdue's got another very good class coming in next season...but, this top-10 ranked recruiting class is fourth...IN THE LEAGUE.

On top of that, the coaching talent is ridiculous...things are good in the soon-to-be-larger league...and getting better.

But, I think we should take a closer look at the class of 2007. In my opinion, it's the most-important recruiting class for the conference in 15 years. This group raised the bar for the league and made the conference, once-again, an absolute mother from top-to-bottom.

Let's first talk about some guys who never made the impact in the league many thought they would.
Jordan Crawford came to IU with another tremendous talent that wasn't there long, of course, Eric Gordon. Both were highly-touted, and both showed why, right out of the box. But, as the house of cards that Kelvin Sampson built, collapsed around him, Crawford headed out of town to Xavier. Gordon was clearly a one-and-done player from the get-go...and he went to the league. Crawford took his game to Xavier where he was an impact player...as he helped X continue to do what it seems to do nearly-every season- make noise in the tourney.

Another 5-star, like Gordon whose team didn't have the success that some thought they would was Koufos at aOSU. Koufos was good-enough to leave for the NBA draft after one season...but didn't seem good-enough in the BT to hold his own among the league's best.

Next up, let's look at some of the rock-solid performers who have seemingly started ever since they arrived on campus.

At Northwestern, Thompson has taken advantage of opportunities. A solidly-built player as a Freshman, he had the ability to drive, shoot and score as defenses sagged away from him to give attention to the Cats formidable frontcourt. Plus, he's a very-good defender.
Allen at MSU has been solid for most of his career and seems to have always been a guy who steps up when he's needed. He's surrounded by talent in East Lansing, but made big shots even as a Freshman...and this continued most-notably this past post-season in the stead of Lucas.

Corperryale "Manny" Harris is a scorer and has filled it up since coming to Ann Arbor as a Frosh. The only reason he's not in the next group might be a perception issue. He's struggled a bit with attitude issues- most-recently earning him a single-game suspension from his coach in '10, but he doesn't seem to be a guy that "makes the players around him better"...but he's pretty great in his own right.

Minnesota's Blake Hoffarber was a bit of an icon in the state before he even set foot in the barn for his high school heroics...and as a Frosh, he was a hero, yet again...for Goldy this time. But he's played a lot of minutes since his first year in Minneapolis and has only gotten better each season.

McCamey at Illinois is another guy who's right on the edge of my next group of players...but doesn't get the nod because of his lack of consistency as a Freshman. That said, he's made a lot of big shots and was physically-ready to play in the Big Ten as a Freshman. Hell, he seemingly-killed Purdue everytime the good guys played Illinois the past few seasons...either with his shooting ability or passing.

Like McCamey, JaJuan Johnson is nearly in my next group, but he didn't seem to be quite ready for the bright lights...especially early in his Freshman season. Sure, he's thin now, but he was a twig in the late-fall of '07 and had trouble with the big bodies of the league. He figured out how to use his lack of girth to his advantage as the season progressed and he became a shot-blocking monster and finisher on fast breaks.

The next group of players are those that were receiving league or national accolades as true Freshman and have simply improved each season.

Battle at PSU has done everything possible to try to help elevate the Lions' chances of making an NCAA tournament. He has unlimited range and can create for himself and has made the other guards around him look great as he's drawn the tougher defender each season. But, defections, injuries and poor coaching have kept his teams out of the tournament...he'll be remembered fondly by PSU fans for helping lead them to the NIT championship...but no one else will remember that outside of Happy Valley.

Michigan State's Lucas has started since he got on campus and his quickness reminded me a lot of Illinois' Dee Brown as a Frosh. He's quick with the ball, smart without it, a great defender and probably an even-better leader. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be returning to the league next season had he not ruptured his achilles. Hopefully he finishes his career strong as he deserves to not be physically-hampered in his final season on campus.
And speaking of painful injuries, Evan Turner fought through a big one this season (what, you thought I was going to talk about someone else?). With his long arms, ability to play a number of positions and amazing play-making ability, I was shocked Turner returned after last season. In high school, he was over-shadowed by his HS teammate, McCamey, but in college, this late-bloomer has been simply-great. He rightfully-earned the National POY awards from multiple sources as he carried the Bucks to a BT championship.

Lastly, but surely not least are the final two members of the Big Three. Moore came into Purdue in the shadow of Eric Gordon as many of the national media saw him as a poor-man's version of IU's prized recruit. But, those who watched him play in high school knew him as a different guy. And Matty, and others, knew he could play defense...something Gordon seldom decided to do. Each season, Smooge has gotten better defensively. And offensively, he seems to iron out a wrinkle or two in his game each off-season. But, his demeanor is what I've always loved about the guy. He's unflappable...always has been...and loves the ball being in his hands in big situations.
His pal Rob has gotten the most media attention since arriving on campus...and some think that's why the Big Three wasn't the Big Four, starting their Sophomore season. In high school, he was always known as Martin's right-hand man...but in college, things changed. The Ostrich made a splash as a Freshman as he made big shots time and time again and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time...We learned as the seasons progressed, that this knack wasn't luck, but instead, it was Rob's motor that had him filling space, moving without the ball and simply understanding how the ball would come off of the rim. His knee injury at the end of last season seemed to be more painful for the Purdue faithful than for Hummel as he quietly toughed through yet another large injury. Like Lucas at MSU, he deserves to go out with an rousingly-successful Senior season...but he deserves it more (you didn't expect this post to be bias-free, did you?).

Perspective's a funny thing. Down in Bloomington, they might not have the same view that we do in God's Country of the past three seasons. And, I think it might even be fair to say that my view of the greatness and importance of the Big Ten's signing class of 2007 is shaded by what I've gotten to witness in Mackey Arena for the past three seasons...but there's no doubt the Big Ten is trending back toward its greatness of decades past...and this group of players can lay a large share of the claim to why its occurred.

The really great thing about next season's Seniors is that, regardless of which players decide to pursue the money, their final chapter in the Big Ten is not yet written.

(also ran: UW Leuer, Nankivil Illinois Davis, Tisdale MSU Summers)

EA: Mercy

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